A Brief Thanksgiving History Lesson
It’s that time of year where families and friends gather together across America to gorge themselves on green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, and turkey – or for the vegetarians out there, Tofurky. Everyone has their own way of passing the day, but how much do we know about this holiday? I looked to Google for answers, here are my Top 10 favorite finds:
- The first Thanksgiving took place in America in 1621 but was not called “Thanksgiving” and was not a widely celebrated tradition until more than a century later.
- The pilgrims originally planned on spending the day in prayer while fasting, but it turned into a non-secular harvest feasting celebration with the Wampanoag Indians that included dancing and games.
- Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a federal holiday in 1863 at the urging of Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of Godey’s Ladies Book (a popular women’s magazine at the time). Sarah spent 17 years lobbying five presidents to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday.
- While Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a federal holiday, he did not fix the date. Presidents had to proclaim Thanksgiving every year until 1941 when Congress approved the official date set by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1939 – the fourth Thursday in the month of November.
- Not only did Sarah Josepha Hale advocate that Thanksgiving be declared a federal holiday, she was also the visionary behind the Thanksgiving menu as we know it today. Sarah wrote extensive descriptions of the Thanksgiving meal in addition to publishing recipes for the traditional items we associate with the day. (Unrelated side note, Sarah also wrote the poem “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”)
- It is unlikely that turkeys were eaten at the first Thanksgiving, those lucky birds had tough meat and were hard to catch.
- It is possible that cranberries were on the table in 1621 because they were native to New England and were part of the diet during the 1600s, but they were not eaten jellied. The rest of the America was introduced to cranberries in 1912 when Ocean Spray Preserving company began packaging and shipping them around the country.
- While they likely ate pumpkins, there was no pumpkin pie at the first Thanksgiving because there was no flour in 1620s New England. The majority of pumpkins grown in the United States today are turned into pumpkin puree.
- Abraham Lincoln allegedly saved a Thanksgiving turkey at the request of his son, but the first turkey officially pardoned was by George H.W. Bush in 1989.
- Those images of pilgrims with buckles on their hats and shoes? Not accurate representations of the poor, conservative settlers in Plymouth. Buckles didn’t come in come into fashion until late in the 17th century and since they were more expensive, were often a status symbols.
Want to learn more about the history of Thanksgiving? Watch this fun video from the History Channel: